Texas Episode 1: Port Arthur, Sea Rim State Park, & Galveston

January 29 – February 1, 2021

My impression of Texas entering the state was as a massively large southern state, hugely full of itself with big oil, large ranches, dual axel pick up trucks, huge belt buckles, 10 gallon hats, and strong egos. What I have learned is the state of Texas, although still a large mass of land, has an incredible rich history, one that would share so many amazing bits of itself along the way. The history of the state is pretty incredible and became a fun way to see the state as we traveled through.

Our first venture here was through Port Arthur, then the coastal beaches, and finally into the heartland of the state before crossing over into West Texas.

Galveston, which at one point was considered the Wall Street of the South, has lots of history, served as the Capital for the Republics of Texas, and whose busy port was first commissioned by the Mexican Government, not the US. The one last milestone of sorts is this magnificent town will be the last coastal exposure that we will enjoy along the gulf, at least based on current plans.

So it is with this introduction that we begin sharing our journey into the state of Texas.

Travel Journel

Port Arthur – Sea Rim State Park – January 29 – 30th

We entered Texas on Highway 82 through the town of Port Arthur, the most industrial place I’ve ever witnessed. The land was marked with the largest and most frequent oil refineries I’ve ever seen on land and shipping canals with large container ships moving the crude in and out. We drove the downtown area which was bleak at best with most buildings appearing run down. We made it to a commercial shopping center on the west side of town where we picked up a few items before heading to our next state park. The route again took us through the refineries with us not being able to imagine anything here that would provide a setting for a state park. As we drove along though, the industrial scenery gave way to more coast, marshy beauty and where we finally came to Sea Rim State Park.

The park is small with only one short loop and 15 sites. The campground sits along the beach on the front side and marsh on the back. Each site has electric, water, and is provided a fire ring, picnic table and lantern post. There are only pit toilets and no other amenities. 

Our entrance was met with Ranger Sam (short for Samantha) sitting in her official ranger building at tomorrow at the front gate. We gave her our name used on the registration which she quickly confirmed for us. She then proceeded into a rich and extremely detailed explanation of all the park amenities and rules. Using a trifold pamphlet with the official park map provided on the extended unfolded backside which she placed on a clip board of sorts. She slid it through an opening in the bottom of the COVID installed plexiglass screwed to frame material surrounding the window, and proceeded to inform us of the park layout, our campsite, and critically important information to include all the major park rules. Sam went on to say that the park manager was out on official park business for the day but she was fully deputized to handle all our needs, so please let her know. One need we had was ice which she informed us that, “yes, we have ice but we can’t sell it as we have recently lost our food license. But if you want ice then I can escort you there as the ice chest is locked but you can have it for free as there is no reason to keep it if we can’t sell it” Kemp’s thought is then why even lock the free ice but she was simply trying to do a good job so I kept my thoughts to myself out of respect for the badge and for how much I was enjoying this conversation. Sam went on to say that if we need firewood they don’t have any and please don’t burn any wood found on the beach and that the store back in town at the intersection sells it and it is fine firewood. We ended the conversation with my knowledge, after looking in the drivers side mirror, that there was a car behind me so I told her I would come back to get the free ice after her business was done with the person behind me, which Sam agreed was a good idea. 

We moved to the campsite and as we do, quickly set everything up. The fact that the site was level certainly makes things go quicker. I then decided to walk back up and ask Ranger Sam if I could get a bag of ice. As I approached the ranger station at the entrance I noticed her outside carrying a sign or something wooden and flat, assuming it wasn’t fire wood based on our previous interaction, but more likely an official sign or something important. I asked if this was a good time to get a bag of ice. She said yes and that the machine was unlocked but she would accompany me over there. Seeing that she had to put the thing she was carrying away, I decided to slow walk in the general direction of the ice locker versus hover. 

Sam, a young brunette sporting dark rimmed glasses, a COVID mask that hung loosely beneath her mouth and nose, was dressed in her park ranger standard issue short sleeve shirt with official park patch and name tag. It was neatly tucked into a pair of high wasted faded denim jeans with belt buckled. The legs of her jeans were short enough to show her colorful socks that rose above her ankle high black military style boots. The entire package making her look tall and slim, sort of nerdy cool if that is a fashion trend.

As I approached the building where the ice locker sat I glanced back to see her clumsy jogging the 10 yards or so towards me, swinging her arms with long legs sort of flimsily carrying her body, sort of like you’d expect from long thin legs running in military boots, in my general direction. I forgot exactly what I said but it was something to do with running. She stopped at about the time she got to my position in the process to get a bag of ice and responded with a smile, well, I have to get my aerobic exercise in somehow and sitting at that ranger window sure isn’t going to get it done. Spunk. 

As I was reaching in to and grab my free bag of ice I suggested that we were about to run also and asked her for suggestions of where we to run. She suggested the beach. Sam went on to remind me that it is pretty hard packed to allow for cars to drive on it and that you can run about 3 miles in the eastern direction but if you get to a fence on the beach then the other side is private property and you shouldn’t run there so maybe that would be a good place to turn back, at 3 miles. I thanked her and said 6 miles wasn’t in my plans for today but we’ll be sure to not pass the fence. We parted ways as I headed back to camp with my bag of ice and the thought of how nice it will be to finally get to run with Toohey on a beach. All the while thinking about Sam and how she could easily of been a character in a Scooby Doo cartoon episode back in the day and who would take so little to develop further into a fun story.

After icing the cooler, Lysette and I dressed for the beach run. Finally we were legally able to bring Toohey along. We headed out and east. The beach here isn’t the sugar white sand and emerald blue water of the Florida panhandle but more dark tan, flat, and hard with muddy colored water breaking in the surf. There are few dunes but they are working on that according to Sam, so don’t walk on the areas behind the trash bins which line the shore side of the beach to the north of the beach sand road. There were plenty of shells to see, many empty snail shells, and all that sprinkled with lots of trash. There were few items of driftwood which according to Sam were illegal for us to think of collecting for ourselves. We did pick up a half dozen broken glass bottles and tossed them into one of the many plastic trash drums along the beach. 

Along the way we passed more cars than walkers and no other dogs. We were told by Sam of the wild hogs that frequent the campground and saw lots of hoof prints along the way. After the run and a few minutes in the trailer we went back to the beach to watch the sunset. It was brilliant as many are along the gulf. But being in Texas where everything is reportedly bigger, the sun sitting on the horizon appeared much larger than other states where we’ve witnessed it. An hour or so later and the full moon appeared over the eastern sky giving us another object to marvel at, again appearing larger than we’ve seen in most states.   

Mosquitos, Mozzies, Skeeters, Sonsa Bitches that Bite, Little Bastards are all names we use to describe these little beasts that annoy us. Camping in the swamp, marshy area, and along the beach has been a constant battle with these little sweethearts. I am now up before sunrise after spending the night battling these little boogers in our current camp and decided to research them to improve my understanding of them and reduce the myths I lie awake thinking about as they buzz and bite me.

  1. Only females (mozzies) bite – Mostly. This isn’t entirely true but the females do use the blood to harvest their eggs versus for nutrition whereas the males seem to have a chip on their shoulder. 
  2. The annoying mosquito buzz is mozzie for “are you asleep yet you warm pulsating tasty one?” – False. This sound is simply created by the movement of their wings in both males and females. Some suggest the pitch can change which is maybe why you hear them during the slow flight around your head when you are trying to sleep and just before they bite.
  3. They die after biting you as what else is there to live for – False. The number I read for the life span of a skeeter was 100 days unless of course they are unfortunately introduced to the TWT team deathwand which has reportedly reduced the world wide average life span of the overall mozzie population to 97.99 days and inside the A-Liner to well under 10 minutes if not spotted and within 10 seconds once spotted.
  4. You can prevent skeeter bites through zen like meditation and eating Indian curry spices – False. The best method we’ve found is to take the offensive position of killing them first. The deathwand, with proper training and skills, is a great mosquito killing machine and has made blood smattering almost a thing of the past. Lysette has mastered the backhand strike while I’m a constant threat with a forehand sweep. I also talk to them while killing them using my masochistic sexy voice, having come to enjoy watching them burn, more smolder, on the wire mesh of the deathwand. The smell of molting exoskeleton is something I never tire of and usually do a sweeping motion with the device to make sure all the nice smokey incense of insect death doesn’t set off the smoke detector. Other than that and all the bug sprays, I have found wind, cold, and the proximity to where they thrive to work best. When I camped in Savannah with my children back in the day, we shared a 2-man pup tent. Small, yes, but so were they once. I’d bring a box fan from home and position it at the foot of the tent, inside, plug it in and turn it on. I’m sure we appeared strange to those in nice high tech tents and RV’s but with sleep comfort being essential to being a good camp dad, it kept us cool in the warm months, and blew the bloody mozzie bastards away.

We are leaving Sea Rim State Park this morning and with night time temperatures for our remaining stay along the coast conducive to their reproductive biting needs, we’ll be sure to stay in combat mode and do our humanly best of reducing the population of these annoying disease carrying winged biting beasts.

Galveston, Texas and the Galveston RV and Marina 

January 30 – February 1, 2021

Moving west from Port Arthur, we passed back through the oil refineries and petrochemical plants, hucked a left in Winnie, Texas (note that it is impossible to see the sign for Winnie without humming the theme song to Winnie the Pooh) then took a pretty straight shot south through a marshy swath and direct into a headwind before passing over the intracoastal waterway onto High Island. From there the drive followed along the beaches until we got to the end of land where we queued up for a free ferry crossing to Galveston. 

Galveston is a town with a population of around 50,000 folks that sits on a barrier island south of Houston. There are several historical areas with The Strand being the most well know and occupied with old commercial building now used as restaurants, bars and shops. A quick web search found that The Strand was also known as the Wall Street of the south back in the early 20th century based on the commerce and finance. Apparently Galveston was also quite progressive through the years having been a welcoming magnet for freed slaves after the Civil War to immigration of many ethnic groups to the area. It is currently known mostly for tourism and its port.

As you move south and away from the historic area you emerge on the beach along Sea Wall Boulevard. This is a long concrete walking, biking, and rollerblade path that drops to the large flat beach. There are frequent concrete and rock jetties that extend into the gulf break and many beachy restaurant, bars, t-shirt shops and hotels lining the road. There is an amusement park constructed on a boardwalk over the water to include signature ferris wheel, roller coaster, and merry go round. 

Once off the ferry, we maneuvered through the town, mostly the industrial section as our Google navigator just gets weird sometimes. We pulled into the RV park where Lysette checked in and we set up. 

The Galveston RV Park and Marina sits in the center backside of the island along the water on an off shoot from the main bay called Offatts Bayou. The park has 83 sites that sit shoulder to shoulder, or awning to push out. There are a few docks and an event center that appeared closed or under renovation. There were people crabbing and fishing of the water’s edge. We made a quick walk of the property before heading out to explore the town. We drove down to the Sea Wall Blvd then east towards the large amusement park, seeing lots of traffic and Texans out enjoying a cool cloudy day on the beach. It was nice to see dogs there as well.

We turned left, north into town and found the historic area, The Strand, and the large mansions along Broadway Avenue J. We also saw the street named Kempner which is what Kemp is short for and was from the maiden name of a Great Great Grandmother, Blanche Kempner Nussbaum. We don’t claim any kin but did the time to snap a photo of the street sign for fun and did some quick research.

Apparently Isaac Herbert Kempner was one of the founders of Imperial Sugars, had his hand with a fella named Moody in starting a major insurance company, and based on the location of his sugar mills, created the company town of Sugarland, Texas. There is reportedly a Kempner High School and a city park named for him in Sugarland. He was one of those responsible for constructing the Sea Wall along the beach front that is still enjoyed by many today. He was a descendant of Polish Jewish immigrants where my namesake was to the best of my knowledge, French.

Following all that excitement, the team moved back to the beach for some Toohey time. The dog member of the team has been amazingly calm through all this so we took him to the beach from some dog surf fun. We quickly tossed a stick and the puppy emerged, ears up, tail high, and with a bounce in his step. He splashed, chewed, chased and enjoyed a few moments of being a dog, free to run, and just be. 

With him now tired and wet, we left the beach, stopped by the local grocery store for some dinner items and headed back to the park. We showered, prepared and cooked dinner, and enjoyed a few video chats with our Colorado friends. It was a good day.

Somewhere along the drive into Texas, I found myself thinking about alligators and how we have now officially left the zone on earth where death by alligator in the wild is a concern. We entered this food chain back in October as we drove south through the state of South Carolina. We came across many of those lovely beast during this time, mostly seeing them sunning and floating. We also have since added the Crocodile in the Everglades to the list of “death by”, but now, unless there is a roadside freak show of sorts, we leave the swamp and warmth needed for these cold blooded reptiles to exist naturally so don’t expect to see them for this phase of our journey.

While thinking about this, I recall the story of my very first encounter with an alligator and likely, almost the death of me and my sister. When I was maybe 3, we lived in a house on the corner of 54th and Habersham in Savannah. A neighborhood characterized as urban city, with small lots, alleys, and modest post WWII homes all organized in a grid. The story continues, and mind you, I actually don’t remember any of this as I was too young and small, but I am passing the story down from my mom and grandmother who were there to witness the following events. 

My sister and I had been playing in the fenced backyard while my mom and grandmother were inside doing whatever adults did inside back on those days. My sister and I ran into the kitchen to tell my mom that there was an alligator under the house. I’m not sure if it were said that eloquently or if it was more how a toddler might babble alligator. My mom, never thinking of the possibility that an alligator would be in this neighborhood let alone beneath her house, assumed we were simply playing alligator and sent us back out to continue our game of alligator. 

That night, long after my sister and I were asleep, my mom and grandmother were woken by the sights of flashing lights and voices of alarmed men out side the house. They went to the window to observe grown men, police officers, wrangling a 6-foot (maybe smaller but editorial privilege taken to add drama) alligator from our front lawn.  True story from the mouths of two great woman.

The Galveston city beach isn’t all that pretty on the scale of beach prettiness. There are no dunes, no beach cottage homes to marvel at, and the sand is off-white at the places it is driest and had packed darker shade of tan where it gets exposed to the tides. But it is active with people and dogs. It is has a big city urban look and fell for a beach, if that makes sense. But one that when given the option, is a nice place to run with your dog or spend the day in the surf. So given its proximity to our camp, it would be the place we would do our run. We drove to Sea Wall Blvd to park for our morning run. The drive there was only about a 2 miles from the RV park and we quickly made the turn east then back west for the north side free parking. We made the cross along Sea Wall Blvd at the intersection and hit the beach running. Our entry to the beach was on one of those concrete and stone jetties but this one is special as it has a large yellow building sitting on top of a board walk at the end over the surf with at painted marquee at the top advertising coffee. We headed east running along the beach, crossing the stone jetties, me doing pushups with each mile until I got to 80. Our view straight ahead was the Historic Pleasure Pier with roller coaster and ferris wheel in view. We turned back before we reached the amusement park. When we got back to the spot we entered the beach we tried to walk to the end of the pier selling coffee but turned back when we saw you had to enter through a small store, I guess the price of admissions.

We drove back home, ate a large breakfast, and prepared to go meet Lysette’s friend and past work mate, a friend she made early in her engineering career, and who now lives in Houston with her husband. The arrangements were to meet at a mutually convenient spot about halfway between Galveston and Houston and the place they chose was advertised as Cajun Mexican Cuisine. The drive was as uneventful as a drive along a busy interstate could be, heading north towards Houston. We pulled off the highway about 25 miles later into a commercial center parking lot with the restaurant sitting on an out parcel with views and sounds of the interstate. With Toohey in the car to protect the assets, we headed inside to meet friends. 

We got there just before them and Lysette spotted her over her mask entering the establishment. No hugs were given but verbal fist bumps and happy shifting and connecting eyes above the mask. We got permission from the hostess to sit on an outside patio with the agreement around being served but in the end, what transpired was more a hybrid server, self serve arrangement. 

The conversation was fun and energetic, me spending more time conversing with husband than the four of us in conversation. Lysette and her friend spent lots of time reminiscing over their work life, people they worked with, and finally I got the gift of a story about Lysette’s past, the “muffin man thing” she used to do while balancing a beer on her head. Of course Lysette couldn’t remember where and how it started but gold standard stuff nonetheless. And no, I haven’t seen a true performance of this yet but will keep working her.

We ate crawfish, both Lousiana and Cajun style and we added shrimp to our tray. The crawfish were tasty, but hard to get enough meat. I once heard someone say about picking blue crabs that the amount of meat isn’t worth the effort, which crossed my mind as I was elbow deep in crawfish juice. The process for eating crawfish involves removing the head section, or three quarters of the entire bug, tossing it in the trash (it is important to note that some folks suggest you suck the juice out of this so maybe it doesn’t all go to waste). The quarter of your bug that remains is the small, not one pinky digit in size, tail section that you pinch, maybe a squeeze, but more a pinch from the bottom to move the meat out. If the amount that came out were a method measurement it would be used to determine things like the height of a stack of paper clips. But the meat of the crawfish and juice tasted good, the Coors Light was cold, and the experience of all this while sitting around the table with good people was enjoyable. Much like my days of picking blue crab, sometimes it is the experience more than the outcome that makes it great, and this one made it. 

After we were all finished and it was time to go, they wanted to say hello to Toohey so we moved the party to the parking lot where he came out and enjoyed being the center of attention. We hugged it out, said goodbye until next time and headed home in our opposite directions. 

Tired from a fun filled weekend and day with friends, we spent the evening in the camper relaxing. We watched a short youtube clip on cycling the hill country before we headed off to sleep. Soon after the winds kicked up so I went outside to check on stuff and lower the front dormer more for the quiet than for anything else. Then off to sleep. 

As we depart Galveston and the Gulf of Mexico, we leave with images of some pretty beaches, lots of hurricane damage, new friends made, and reacquainting with old friends. Our hearts at the moment are now focused inland to an area with a different history, weather, and experience altogether.

As update to our location, we are still camping at the Lady Bird Campground in Fredricksburg, sitting comfortably and cozy inside our trailer. We are no longer cycling while the deep freeze winter weather system passes turning our trailers port side into a sheet of ice. Our current plan is to hunker down and weather permitting, travel into Austin and San Antonio. From here we still have a gap to fill but will likely move southerly towards the Mexican border, maybe Del Rio, then westerly towards Big Bend and beyond.

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